Croydon’s Conservative-run council was tonight accused of being “out of control” and mis-spending Council Tax money in an “obscene way”.
Timothy Godfrey, the opposition Labour spokesman on libraries, took the opportunity of an emergency meeting at the Town Hall to call on the ruling Tories to abandon plans to hand the running of the borough’s libraries to an outside business, and instead “do the right thing for this town”.
Godfrey and Labour colleagues had tabled a motion calling for the emergency meeting after Godfrey was expelled from the budget-setting meeting last month when the shadow cabinet member was prevented from asking questions of his opposite number, Tim Pollard, over an announcement that the council’s preferred bidder, John Laing Integrated Services, had bridled over taking on pension liabilities for library staff.
It was time, Godfrey said, “to move on from its failed partnership with John Laing and instead empower the communities we all seek to serve through a new style of public service”. JLIS is a subsidiary of the developers, Laing, with whom Croydon is 50-50 partners in the ultra-secretive £450million Urban Regeneration Vehicle, which could include the borough’s library buildings.
In the opening speech tonight, Godfrey recalled attending a public meeting in Coulsdon three years ago, shortly after the current council had withdrawn the mobile library and was “consulting” over a scheme to close six other branch libraries. “I was just able to get into the church where the meeting was being held, as well over 150 people had turned out to demonstrate their fury at this council’s plans,” Godfrey told the meeting.
“A member of the public spoke at that meeting with passion for his local library, his local community, his family and friends, and said that he was fed up with the council always ‘consulting’ on what it would not be doing any more. It never consulted on what could be done. He wanted change, and he wanted his council to listen to him.
“That speech struck a chord with me, because he wasn’t interested in the mechanics of how his library was run. He wasn’t interested in the council arguments about vicious cuts to council funding from the Tory-led government,” Godfrey said.
“He was interested in his library. He was interested in how his community is served by the council.”
Godfrey claims that nearly half of Croydon’s budget for running its libraries is being spent not on books, librarians or related activities, but on behind-the-scenes facilities at the council’s offices, computers, facilities management, call centres and legal services. Godfrey believes that the council is bleeding the libraries of cash, while propping up inefficient back-office operations across the Town Hall generally.
Godfrey described this as “obscene”.
“Croydon Council has got out of control,” he said. “It is an obscene way to run a council. It is an obscene way to spend the Council Tax of Croydon residents.”
Godfrey said that the council’s privatisation plans will only “create fresh bureaucracy and lower the quality of the service”.
He described this as, “Fresh bureaucracy in a new set of contract managers. Lower quality of service as Laing the house builder screws down staffing levels to increase profits.”
Croydon Council has tried to keep much of the detail of the libraries contract offered to JLIS a secret; it is thought that Croydon would pay £30 million over eight years to JLIS for running the libraries. But JLIS was due to start operations in Croydon on April 1, and their belated dislike for meeting library staff’s pension liabilities has left the service in limbo.
JLIS’s management, as they re-tender alongside Greenwich Leisure, must also consider that any work in Croydon may be short-term, as Godfrey repeated his party’s previous warning that, should Labour win the Town Hall elections in a year’s time, “on Day One we will serve notice to John Laing that the contract will be at an end”.
Godfrey said, “We will end the culture of privatisation. We will end the culture of waste. We will start a new culture of openness and engagement with the communities we seek to serve right across this borough.”
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I attended Monday night’s Council meeting. It was a set piece involving three speakers on each side for and against the Labour resolution and showed the bankruptcy of Council Chamber adversarial politics. The tactics chosen by Labour were questionable. For their part the Tories were hell bent on pursuing the tendering process based on the final three bidders being allowed to make changes to their bids.
By tieing the proposal for a cross Party Working Party to examine only the Co-operative Library idea, Labour effectively invited the Tories to reject the proposal. If they had proposed a Working Party to examine all the options, some Tories might have wanted to agree. On the other hand the Tories could have proposed to amend the resolution to create an all options Working Party. Even if the rules governing the emergency meeting would not have allowed such an amendment, they could have rejected the resolution with a promise that they would propose a suitable re-worded one at the next appropriate meeting (e.g. Cabinet.)
Labour did not do itself any favours with those concerned about the future of the libraries. It had failed to alert the networks of interested people by email that it had called the emergency meeting. It seems to think that posting things on its website is sufficient, when most people do not constantly visit websites to see updates. It has not undertaken a consultation on the Co-operative Library idea, and has provided no detail of how it might work. This enabled Tory Cllr Pollard to do a forensic demolition job on the idea.
The Tories are on weak ground defending what has happened in the tendering process. They previously made the mistake of referring the it to the Scrutiny & Overview Committee meeting on 5 December on the grounds that it had not been open and transparent enough and wanting to ensure that future tender exercises were more so. In particular their reference stated:
‘The report to Corporate Services Committee and the decision of the cabinet member did not contain details of the library specification and for this reason it is not demonstrated that the Library service under the proposed provider will meet the councils objectives as set out in paragraph 10.1 of the Part A report nor the Library Strategic Framework key priorities which are to:
• Support the sustainable development of safer and happier individuals and communities
• Improve health and wellbeing
• Inspire learning, talent and creativity in young people and children
• Promote economic growth, prosperity and aspiration through library services
• Transform the environment and celebrate Croydon’s identity and sense of place
• Strive to deliver excellence which offers value for money
• Empower local communities
• Develop an integrated education, skills and employment offer
• Target library service based on local community needs
• Work in partnership to develop joint initiatives’.
Although Laing stepped back, rather than withdrew, from the tendering process, it may be the only bidder that will take part in the re-tendering now underway. No one will blame GLL if it wipes its hands of the whole matter. The leading lights in the Wandsworth in-house team are now concentrating on finalising the transfer of the Library & Heritage Service and their staff colleagues to GLL with effect on 1 April. It is therefore doubtful if they would be in a position to revise their bid. If faced with only Laing’s revised bid Croydon Tories will need to ensure that the final outcome is as transparent as possible, and since that the Social Value legislation has come into force, perhaps the bid(s) need to be assessed against the Council’s policy on it.
It is great that Croydon has strong voices backing Libraries in the community. Though the comments on Labour’s proposals by Sean Creighton mirror those of the Tory Cabinet member.
Let me be crystal clear. We will not ‘outsource’ our Libraries. We will not base our model on volunteers replacing paid, professional staff. Staff will remain employed by the council and will be empowered actually to run their local libraries through engagement of the local community in setting priorities and developing their local service.
Croydon Council is a huge organisation, yet it demonstrates very little value for money or economies of scale. It is inconceivable today that you would try and run all of Croydon’s schools from the Council HQ, instead they have devolved powers and support mechanisms. Broadly speaking that is a more successful model than the command and control system that the Tories cling on to for Croydon Libraries. The future is local, and it is coming to Croydon.
These plans were originally set out in June 2011, and the organised library campaigners have all been sent a copy.
Read More Here: http://www.timothygodfrey.net/2011/06/protecting-and-developing-croydon.html
It is amusing to hear the Tories ripping into this policy and defending their deal with John Laing given that they back a very similiar model for Upper Norwood Library. How some politicans spin on the edge of a coin…
The Cross Party Working Group is in line with our policy from the start of this process, where we proposed a cross party ‘Library Commission’ to look at all options. To look now at all options is a waste of time, when we have seen what privatisation offers. We have seen how ‘Out of Control’ Croydon Council itself is. We cant go on accepting nearly half the budget being spent on back office contracts. Something has to change.
Councillor Timothy Godfrey
Shadow Cabinet Member for Libraries
The Labour Motion in Full:
“We hereby call an Emergency Council meeting to discuss the follow Motion:
This Council regrets the incompetence of Councillor Fisher’s administration over the failed privatisation of Libraries to John Laing.
It is vital that Croydon Council must be efficient and effective in delivery of front line services.
We agree to match the savings proposed in the John Laing deal by forming a cross party working group to deliver a Co-operative model based on devolved budgets and responsibilities; staff being employed directly through the council; removal of senior management layers; and ending the practice of expensive outsourced contracts for IT and facilities management”
Reading the Labour motion above, I am left thinking that it was bound to fail in its stated objective because of the statement “This Council regrets the incompetence of Councillor Fisher’s administration over the failed privatisation of Libraries to John Laing”.
If, as I would hope, the objective was to establish a co-operative and commonsense approach to the libraries issue, why did anyone feel the need to try to score political points and kick their opposition?
Comments here demonstrate the continued confusion over libraries. This is no minor blip or hiccup, as Croydon Conservatives would have us believe, but a major blunder; a flawed procurement process that will cost Croydon residents dearly.
Huge inefficiencies linked to, but generally unrelated to the Libraries Service, were established at the off and discussed in a shadow cabinet meeting attended by campaigners and Tim Coates, who went as far as saying they were the highest costs he had seen not just in this country but in the world!
It is these gross inefficiencies that we need to address, not just for the sake of our libraries but because it impacts on value for money across other services too. We must ensure our library service – the service that residents spoke up for but has been systematically disassembled and hollowed out, against residents’ wishes – is protected.
Save Croydon Libraries Campaign